Originally built in 1952 as the Empire Theatre, North Point’s State Theatre is a reminder of the city’s storied history as an Asian film powerhouse. And what a theatre it was, boasting a 56 ft-wide cinema screen, 1,400 seats, and even an underground car park. The State Theatre had a huge variety of programmes, screening films and hosting musicians both local and international across a range of genres. After decades of service, it closed its doors in 1997 and was eventually converted into a snooker hall. It’s also part of a complex that houses 200 residential flats and a small shopping arcade. What really makes the State Theatre special is its parabolic roof trusses which are peerless in Hong Kong, and most likely the whole of Asia.
In 2015, a developer began to buy out the flats and shops in the State Theatre complex, paving the way for its demolition. Local conservation activists mobilized in response, and surprisingly, were able to get the building’s initial Grade III status upgraded to Grade I, which is only granted to 'buildings of outstanding merit'. Although Grade I designation does not offer legal protection against demolition as evidenced by Queen’s Pier in 2008, their efforts paid off. When the developer applied for the compulsory sale of the State Theatre in 2018, they stated that they had “a view to conserve relevant part(s) of the building” – namely the theatre itself – a change from their original plan to redevelop the entire property.
Although most residents and store owners have left the State Theatre, one lone tenant, Au Yeung Cheung, remains in the shopping arcade. Cheung is a calligraphic sign maker who runs King Wah Signboards, which has been in the theatre for more than 30 years. Cheung estimates that he has produced over 1,000 signs, with most of them being used by businesses in the surrounding area.